Support Persons

Trusted people play essential roles in supporting people with communication and/or decision-making.  A trusted person may be a family member, friend, service provider, support person or anyone that the individual chooses to assist them with communication and/or making decisions.

A support person may be:

A communication assistant

    • A communication assistant conveys messages as generated or approved by the individual being supported. They assist when the individual’s messages are not understood; if they require assistance to understand spoken information; to read and understand written information, or to complete and sign forms.

A proxy communicator

      • A proxy communicator is an advocate. They say what they think the person would want to communicate or what they think is in the best interest of the individual based on their knowledge of the person and the situation.  Their messages are not generated by the individual they are assisting.   This is appropriate in some situations when a person cannot communicate for whatever reason, even with communication supports.

An Interpreter

    • An interpreter assigns meaning or intent to an individual’s non-symbolic or non-language based behaviours and vocalizations. For example, an individual’s smile or eye gaze may indicate that they like or want an item offered to them, or the action of turning away from an offered object may indicate their dislike.

A Decision Supporter

    • A decision supporter assists a person to make a decision. They assist the individual to consider the options, pros and cons, risks when making an informed decisions.

A Substitute Decision Maker

    • A substitute decision-maker makes decisions on behalf of an individual taking into account the individual’s known will and preferences.

For the sake of efficiency or energy conservation, a support person may shift between the roles of communication assistant, proxy or advocate, interpreter and decision supporter.  When this happens, it is important to check in with the individual to ensure that their opinions are truly being heard and taken into account.

Essential Resources

  • Ensure that the individual authorizes you to support them and that you understand the type of support they want you to provide.
  • If required, assist the individual to complete a communication support questionnaire.
  • Clarify or have the individual clarify your role with the professional who is interacting with the individual.
  • Find out if you are required to sign a confidentiality agreement with the individual and/or professional.
  • If assisting with communication, learn techniques by taking the CDAC communication assistant course on ways to support:
    • Comprehension of spoken language
    • Reading and understanding written documents
    • Expressive communication
    • Making decisions
  • Prepare any communication tools that the individual may require in the decision making situation.
  • If assisting with decisions, use a decision making approach to explore options and/or Taking Mats
  • Acknowledge, honour or negotiate the individual’s choices and decisions.

Supporting Webinars and Resources

  1. Communication and Capacity: Context and Guiding Principles (Barbara Collier)
  2. Communication Disabilities: Barriers and Impact on Choice and Control (Barbara Collier)
  3. Legal Context for Exercising Capacity and Provision of Communication Supports (Lana Kerzner)
  4. Communication Supports: Formal, Symbolic Communicators (Barbara Collier)
  5. Communication Supports: Informal, Non-Symbolic Communicators (Jo Watson)

Supplemental Resource:

Communication Assistant Course